Fish traders in Kasese have expressed their dismay over the low demand for fish despite a drastic drop in fish prices.
According to fresh fish traders based at Kayanja landing site, the cost of fish has dropped to half what it was before the lockdown, even with the currently low fish stocks.
“We traders used to buy a big cat fish at Shs 30,000 but now it has reduced to Shs 15, 000,” said Ramra Muhindo, a fish trader at Kayanja landing site, situated at the shores of Lake Edward, in Nyakiyumbu sub-county, Kasese district.
As a result, Muhindo said, the traders are, in turn, able to offer fish at a cheaper than usual cost to their clients.
However, despite the reduction in fish prices, many traders say they are counting losses because customers are much fewer than usual, and even those insist on buying the fish at even lower prices than they already are.
“Market [for the fish] is not there due to lock down and quarantine, and the few customers we get want to give much less than the cost price,” Muhindo said.
“I have been in this fish trade for over 20 years, but everything has changed during this time of Covid-19; we invest a lot in fish, but cannot even rever the cash we even inject into it,” she said. Peter Masereka , another fish trader, confirmed that lately buyers drive hard bargains, and desperate traders sometimes find themselves selling their fish at a loss.
“You can imagine a customer giving you Shs 3000 for fish that you bought at Shs 6000 at the lake, and that’s before accounting for the cost of transport. But we have to adjust since Covid has affected all of us,” Masereka said.
Among several proposals aimed at facilitating social distancing during this period, traders have been encouraged to embrace the use of ICTs both to market their products and to link them to potential customers. However, even this is proving a challenge for the fish traders.
“This system of looking for market on phone is not working for us. We send the fish to the buyer as we wait for the payment, but sometimes, after getting the fish, the customer will send you less money than you expected,” Muhindo said.
“And since fish is a perishable good, I just accept [the pay] with little or no profit, and that cannot allow me to feed my family or save for the children.”
Another challenge facing fish traders is that their customers tend to come to the market late in the evening, towards curfew time [7pm] hence making it difficult for them to beat the mandated closing times.
“Our customers always come to buy late in the evening, and because fresh fish cannot last a night, we are forced to delay in the market waiting for them. But security agents chase us away even before time,” Masereka said, adding that their businesses face collapse as a result. He appealed to the government to extend the curfew from 7pm to 8pm.
The sub-county Chairperson Sunday Peter Kakule affirmed that traders and residents of Kayanja village were facing it rough during this period..
”All the 28,000 residents here depend on this lake for their livelihood, but now only 34 fishing vessels are in operation, and each is only allowed to carry two to three people,” Kakule said.
Moreover, he said, the market for fish and has been greatly reduced following the closure of the border with the DRC.
“The major fish market was in DR Congo, from where Congolese used to cross to come and buy fish from here, but now that route is no longer operational,” Kakule said.
The RDC Kasese district, Lt. Joe Walusimbi, who also heads the security and Covid taskforce team, revealed that water transport at the border point of Kayanja had been temporarily closed due to security reasons that are being ironed out.